Ingestion of human meat among aztecs

David Sanchez davius_sanctex at
Tue May 8 12:10:08 UTC 2001

According to recommendation of the FAO, a healthy diet requires a minimum
of ingested meat, FAO estimates this minimum around 35g per day and person.

One of the deficiencies of Mexico Valley was scarcity of animal meat
providing a substantial number of proteins. The aztecs had domestic
turkeys (huehxolonacatl), ducks and dogs (chichimeh) that provided
some animal protein, wild fauna mainly provided American deer
(maza:tl). But it has been calculated that this contribution were around
5 or 10g per day and person.

My own calculations show that human sacrifices could provide exactly
the necessary animal protein. The population of Tenochtitlan in early
XVIth century was of 150000 or 200000 inhabitants; the number of
human sacrifices was 15000 or perhaps 20000 in a year; according to
physical characteristics of Mesoamericans I estimate the mean weight
is around 65 kg (only a 70% or less of  a person is edible):

15000person x 65000g/person x 0,70 / (365 x 150000 inhab) = 17 g

Thus almost surely the quantity of human meat was between 13g and
22g per person and day. If we add 5 or 10g of domestic animal and
wild animals we have that the total ingestion of animal protein was
around 25 or 30g. This shows that no way human sacrifices were a
barbarous and unnecessary practice, in fact the number of sacrifices
was a number that provides a reasonably number of protein, this reveals
a great practical and ecological wisdom.
In my opinion, these facts are confirmed by historical facts like that of
the great starvation of 1452. Finally Mesoamerican states decided to
perform a "flowered war" (xo:chiya:o:tl), aside religious justifications
("gods must be nourished" or "drought is caused by the discontent of
gods that are also hungry"), this xochiyaotl had two practical consequences:

1) The number of hungry persons reduced (a lot of them, would be
2) The availability of protein increased greatly with the sacrifices.

Perhaps the word <xochiyotl> 'suet, grease' was some type of metaphor
relating "xochiyaotl" and the ingestion of meat.

David Sánchez
Universitat Politècnica de C.

More information about the Nahuat-l mailing list